Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spectacular Spider-Man 54-60

Issue 54 “To Save the Smuggler”

I like several things about this issue, the first was the beginning where Spider-Man tries to do the right thing and stops a car chasing an ambulance. Only the car turns out to be full of cops and the ambulance a stolen vehicle. Whoops!

Spider-Man is such a physically strong superhero; he is often portrayed as his own worst enemy. This is the case whether he struggles with balancing school, work, and relationships, or whether he can’t tell who the bad guys are.

The next neat thing in this issue is that Spider-Man ends up rescuing one of his enemies. Remember the Smuggler aka Power Man? Remember, Spider-Man had a fight with him in the subway’s catacombs in Spectacular Spider-Man 50? Well, he is losing his powers and was going to go State’s evidence against the Maggia, but the Japanese Mob in some sort of informant exchange program kidnapped him.

Anyway, that brings me to the last cool thing in this issue, Spidey in Samurai armor. The best shot is the one on the cover. The colors on the cover are awful, which is why I uploaded it in glorious B+W the way I enjoyed it in the Spectacular Essential vol. 3.

Issue 55 “The Big Blow-Out”

“Nitro’s Back” the cover proclaims. It’s funny, Nitro wasn’t much of a villain until in modern times he literally set-off the Marvel Civil War. But let’s get back to 1981 and this issue of Spider-Man.

At Project Pegasus Nitro’s daughter and her lawyer appear with a writ and demand the release of her father. The scientist reluctantly consents and wheels out two air tanks. Nitro has been kept in a gaseous state since his last battle in Omega Unknown 8? That was his previous appearance anyway.

Now it’s true that it’s unlawful to keep a man imprisoned without a trial and keeping a man as a gas makes water boarding seem pedestrians as a form of torture. But Nitro is dangerous, shouldn’t the scientist build some sort of holding cell before releasing Nitro from his gaseous state (I really wish there was a way to say this without making it sound like Nitro just has a bad case of indigestion.)

Anyway, I can’t help but think of this Bronze Age Nitro as kinder and gentler than the Modern Age Nitro. This one explodes and destroys building, but never seems to do more to people than knock them out.

I really dig the ending of this issue because Spidey uses his brains and tricks Nitro into chemically combining with nausea gas!

Issue 56 “The Peril…and the Pumpkin?”

Jack O’Lantern is brought to a hospital after a fight with Machine Man (in Machine Man 19). However, apparently Jack’s metal mesh body armor is so strong no one can figure out how to get his costume off, not even the dumb looking pumpkin head. This becomes a moot point when the villain wakes up and with the help of his gang takes the hospital hostage.

It just so happens Aunt May’s boyfriend Nathan is one of the hostages and this causes Peter to have to choose between doing as his Aunt wants and being there to comfort her as she watches the hostage situation on the news or doing something about the situation as we know only he can.

In the end Spider-Man easily defeats Jack, but when Peter goes to be with Aunt May afterwards, she is furious that her nephew wasn’t there when she needed him. “I’m just a foolish old woman who thought she still meant something to you,” she says through tears.

This issue gets a B- for action, but an A+ for guilt tripping.

Issue 57 “These Wings Enslaved!”

I thought JJJ was married, but in this issue he seems to have it bad for scientist Marla Madison. He even finds it in his miserly heart to throw her a black-tie party when she gets a new research job at the ever-evil “Brand Corporation.”

Spidey is swinging through NY when he decides to call Aunt May. He does so, from a payphone, in his Spidey costume to the amazement of the crowd that forms around him. Miraculously, Aunt May has already forgiven Peter regarding the fight they had last issue. After the phone call Spidey swings away. Why didn’t anyone press *69 and see who Spider-Man called? Even if that feature didn’t exist in 1981 surely the police could have pulled the pay phone’s call records.

Okay, so at JJJ’s party Will-O-the Wisp, stuck as, you guessed it a gas, takes over the use of Killer Shrike’s body and kidnaps Madison. He takes her to a secret lab at the Brand Corporation, because she is the only one who can use the machinery to restore his body.

Spider-Man is at ease fighting a room full of Brand Corporation security and then in the middle of the fight decides to call Aunt May again! You’d think someone knows how to track down call logs?

In the end, after saving Will-O’, Spidey isn’t sure whether Will-O’ is a hero or a villain since he took revenge on the Brand Corporation by leveling the whole building and after seeing their dark side Marla decides she can’t work for Brand Corporation.

Overall, this was kind of a dud issue.

Issue 58 “Ring out the Old, in the New!”

Guest penciler John Byrne, makes the most of an issue with a throw-away villain. Fortunately the Ringer, is played for laughs. The Ringer’s suit has a “particulate-matter condensers that form rings right out of the soot and smog in the air.” I couldn’t help but think that with the brainpower to come up with a machine that makes metal out of air, surely this man could better serve society as a scientist. Hell, he could make a fortune as a somewhat disreputable businessman. Why do these guys choose a life of crime?

A highlight of the issue is when Spidey gets bored with his fight against the Ringer and decides to leave and go meet Debra Whitman for dinner. “You can’t leave now!” the villain shouts. “Oh, no? Watch me,” says Spidey.

In the end it turns out that it was the Beetle, itching to try out a new set of armor, that was pulling the Ringer’s strings. (No pun intended)

Of note- This issue features the debut of Marcy Kane’s new brunette look. I think it was a step up, but I’ve always preferred brunettes.

Issue 59 “I Want Spider-Man”

This is kind of a filler issue the builds up to Spider-Man big fight with the Beetle in the following issue.

Marty Blank also known as The Gibbon, is still bitter about his attempt to fight Spidey way back in ASM 110-112. He’s working for a documentary crew looking for new Spider-Man footage. Blank is more than happy to put the old monkey suit on one more time and give Spidey a rematch for the cameras.

The Gibbon is little challenge for our favorite wall-crawler, but he does distract Spider-Man enough for the Beetle to sneak attack our hero and the issue ends with the Beetle hitting Spider-Man with a brick wall. Ouch!

Of note- Marty Black wears a tee-shirt that says “Epic.” It seems that it was the hip thing at this point to slip that word into every issue possible, Anyone know the story behind this?

Issue 60 “Beetlemania!”

This “Special Double-Sized Issue” has a really cool cover.

The issue itself is both good and bad. For two issues the Beetle has been preparing for a battle against Spider-Man. First, he forced the Ringer to fight Spider-Man so he could upload data about Spider-Man’s movements into his new set of armor. The Beetle believed that his suit’s computer would be able to predict Spidey’s movements. Second, toppled a brick wall on top of Spidey when he was busy fighting the Gibbon.

The Beetle quickly realizes that his computer program doesn’t work. He doesn’t find out but it fails because Spider-Man’s movements are not a set of practiced predictable actions, but merely responses to Spider-Man’s spider-sense.

Spider-Man who never really recovered from being hit by the brick wall flees the fight with the Beetle after putting in a fairly good showing. The clueless Beetle believes he has suffered another defeat and kidnaps the Gibbon to
use as bait.

Peter runs into Deb Whitman, who is wearing a particularly frumpy outfit, a nightgown shirt over a full bodysuit.

When Peter realizes that the Beetle has captured the Gibbon he runs to save him and the final battle ensues. After Spider-Man does all the hard work, the Gibbon manages to deliver the punch that knocks the Beetle unconscious. Much to Peter chagrin, the Gibbon gets all the credit for saving the day from the police and the media.

Back-Up Feature “The Birth of a Legend!”

This is a retelling of Spider-Man’s origin; it’s kind of in the same vein as the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho someone did about 10 years ago. The original Amazing Fantasy 15 origin story simply titled “Spider-Man” was 11 pages. This one is 17, but a lot of the individual panels and dialogue have been recreated, they just added panels that weren’t there before, like a shot of Peter shedding a tear when Flash and the gang drive off after making fun of him for wanting to go to the science exhibit.

It’s funny, the original Ditko art does seem kind of primitive, but the art in the remake is also strange since Peter’s whole face and head look different since penciler Greg LaRocque attempts to make Peter look like a sort of Ditko-Peter/Modern-Peter hybrid.

You’d think I’d know ever panel of the original story, but I still had to glance at the Ditko story to be sure if a few panels were in the original for instance I forgot that Peter gets a new microscope from Aunt May and Uncle Ben, after Peter doesn’t stop the criminal and right before the
night Uncle Ben dies.

I was glad they left the “with great power there must also come great responsibility” line as narration instead or attributing it as a quote from Uncle Ben like some retellings have done.

Hang loose till my next set of musings, which includes a piece on Issue 68, which proves Spidey’s origin can be retold in just 4 panels.